A Bday in BA
The way our program works, we as students have the opportunity to take classes at several different universities here in BA. While most of my peers have been going to class for the past week or so, my particular program doesn’t happen to start until next week. Which basically means that I have had a lot of free time to do whatever I please (except for my daily 2 hour Castellano class). This abundance of free time was particularly welcome this past weekend, because yesterday (Monday) was my birthday!
This was actually my first birthday spent away from my family. Since I have a summer birthday, I’ve always been able to spend it with my family and childhood friends. And while I’m not one of those people who makes a big deal out of it being their birthday, it still felt strange to be thousands of miles away from those who love me most. Luckily, I had a weekend packed with activities to keep me living in the moment. The festivities started on Friday when a couple of my friends and I ventured to a bar with a patio decorated to make you feel as though you’re in the middle of a modern, urban rainforest. The vibes were spot on. We were able to practice our Spanish with some Venezuelans and Colombians that we met, and I was relieved by their patience with us. In fact, most people here have been more than accommodating and understanding with us, and often offer to speak with us in English. This especially happens in restaurants when we have no idea what is written on the menu. But we always politely insist, “No gracias, tenemos que practicar nuestra castellano.” That is, unless you’re trying to read an Armenian menu in Spanish. That is one of the rare exceptions when we accepted a menu in English with open arms. Sarkis is an Armenian restaurant that is so popular that you need to arrive 15 minutes before the restaurant opens at 8 o clock in order to ensure that you’ll get a table. To say the least, we definitely did not leave hungry. Who would have thought that the first time I tried Armenian food, it would be in Argentina?!
Before all of that indulgence, earlier on in the day, I met up with a friend to check out the Museum of Fine Arts. As I waited at the bus stop, I realized that a few things:
- 1. It was an incredibly beautiful day, a little breezy with lots of sun (Buenos Aires’s winter seems to be much more mild than Atlanta’s, and about a trillion times more mild than New York’s snowy season).
- Everybody is on “Argentina time” here, meaning there’s rarely a sense of urgency. This applies not only to meeting up with friends (2 o’clock probably means closer to 3 o’clock) but also to cafes and restaurants—you can easily linger for hours without being given the check. We Americans have adapted quite well to this lifestyle, and I knew my friend would probably be late anyway.
- I had never been around that area before, so might as well explore, right?
So with those thoughts, I got out of line for the bus and started walking. That simple action was one of the best decisions I’ve made since being here. I’ve found that wandering, lingering, and exploring (especially while alone), is so empowering and almost always yields unexpected benefits. I found myself able to stroll through acres of picturesque parks that I would have barely been able to notice had I been sandwiched between other people using the bus. And of course, I got to the museum with plenty of time to spare before my friend showed up. And then we lingered some more. In the museum, in the nearby street fair, in a café, and at dinner. Life’s better when you linger.
Sunday, I went on a biking excursion with seven other girls from my program. Guided by some locals on yet another gorgeous day, we rode our bikes along the cobblestone streets of the suburbs of BA, and along the Rio del Plata. After walking through an ecological reserve, I had the chance to (finally!) try mate for the first time. Mate is one of the most culturally fascinating aspects of Argentina that I’ve experienced thus far. It’s a warm drink made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant, but you can’t just order it in any restaurant like tea or coffee. The cup is made from a hollowed out gourd, which is filled with mate leaves. The metal straw contains a built-in filter at the bottom to ensure that you only drink the liquid, and don’t get any bits of the leaves in your mouth. The gourd is passed around the circle, and each person must finish the whole cup. Then it is refilled with hot water and passed to the next person. I learned the hard way that you can’t say “gracias” when you’re offered the cup, because you only say “thank you” to indicate that you are finished; that you don’t want the cup to be passed to you again. This was especially difficult for me because I felt rude not saying thank you when something was offered to me! Anyway, it was delicious and gave me a nice caffeine buzz to finish off the rest of the biking excursion.
Monday was my birthday, and fortunately, another free day! I spent the day lingering (noticing a pattern here yet?) with some of my closest friends here, enjoying the always delectable café cuisine and soaking in the sun at a nearby park. It was all smooth sailing until about 9 pm, when Nelly asked me what time my friend was coming over. I told her probably around 11, and then we would go out to celebrate my birthday together. “A las once?!” (“At 11 o’clock?!”) She was surprisingly shocked, and como siempre, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then, suddenly, it all became clear. I remembered the night before at dinner she had mentioned something in passing about her wanting me to meet her friends. She had spoken fast, and it was one of those times where I just smiled and nodded, not totally grasping what she had said, but not wanting to go through the whole routine of asking her to speak slowly and repeat herself. Note to self: never smile and nod again. Always ask. Because she had actually been telling me that she wanted me to invite one of my friends over for dinner for my birthday! It now made sense that she was wondering where my friend was; we usually eat dinner around 9. Well, with a few frantic phone calls to my friend Leila’s host parents (her local cell phone ran out of money, naturally) she was over here in no time and it was a lovely celebration, complete with the most decadent dulce de leche, merangue, and strawberry dessert that Nelly made for me. I blew out my candle, made a wish, and then we lingered.
And then we lingered some more.
Until next time,